4 March 1999
Kaikoura, New Zealand

A Day in Kaikoura

Although today was originally planned as the day that I was going to accompany Bernard on a whale listening expedition, the winds had picked up over the night and whipped the waters off Kaikoura into something a little too rough for the small boat that we were going to use. Hopefully we will be able to get out tomorrow if the winds, which were blowing over 35 knots by late afternoon, calm down. With the Kaharoa still tied up to the dock in Wellington but scheduled to make the trip down here later this evening, we had a couple of hours free to explore Kaikoura before our meeting this afternoon with the folks from Whale Watch tm Kaikoura.

Kaikoura's main street is similar to those found in most small beach communities around the world. For the few blocks from the railroad bridge to the Garden of Memories with its whale jawbone-bordered paths, both sides of the street are lined with small shops, hotels and motels to suit any taste and budget, restaurants (many of which we got to sample) and gift stores. However, Kaikoura also has some rather unique facilities that highlight the wonderful ocean environment just offshore including the Whale Watch tours run out of the old railroad depot, the Dolphin Encounter, Swim with the Seals and Dolphins and the Shark Cage Diving Adventure.

The folks in Kaikoura are obviously very proud of the marine life in their waters as demonstrated by the large number of buildings in town having pictures of whales, seals, dolphins and even crayfish (for which the town was named) painted, carved and hung upon. At the end of the peninsula is an outcropping of rocks across which are draped large numbers of fur seals seemingly oblivious to the presence of strangers. At one point while I was trying to get a picture of one of the fur seals, it slowly rolled over, lifted its head up into the air and let out what to me sounded like a mighty yawn. Not being overly confident in my fur seal communication skills, I decided that perhaps I was being told that I had come close enough and that this rock wasn't big enough for the two of us. Besides, there were plenty more fur seals that didn't seem to be as concerned about a two-legged visitor.

Kaikoura has a rich history, much of which is preserved and on display at the Kaikoura District Museum and Archives, a wonderful little museum maintained by a dedicated staff of volunteers. According to the folks at the museum, the Kaikoura District has evidence of human occupation dating back more than 950 years when the moa (large, flightless birds) hunter Maori settled in the area. When Captain Cook sailed past in 1770 he found the locals very cautious of his ship and the strange looking people on board. Staying far away from his ship in their canoes, Cook decided to name the peninsula Lookers On.

The whaling industry, established by Robert Fyffe (his house is still standing) in 1843, attracted a varied group of people from around the world. The life and history of these people along with the traditions and culture of the original inhabitants are presented in pictures and artifacts that fill just about every inch of the museum's several buildings. Not only are the traces of human habitation displayed, but the museum also contains a large slab of rock that contains the fossilized remains of a giant Plesiosaur that roamed the waters off Kaikoura about 70 million years ago. Accompanying the fossil was the story of how it was discovered and even more fascinating, how it was airlifted off the beach and to the museum by an enormous Russian-made supply helicopter.

I would imagine that most of you have heard the expression "padded cell" at some point, but how many people have actually been inside of one. Well, thanks to the Kaikoura Museum I can now say that I am not only one of the few people who have had that opportunity, but was also able to get out of there and write about it. It seems that the original jailhouse in Kaikoura had one of its cells padded with thick, relatively soft material (at least it might have been nearly 100 years ago) on the walls, doors and even floor. Unlike many museums that I am more accustomed to, in this one you were actually allowed to walk inside the original cell and try and imagine what it must have felt like to be locked inside. I for one can say that as crazy as the world might seem some times, I would still much rather be on the outside than on the inside of that one.

Later this afternoon, Clyde, Mike Sweeney, Bernard Brennan and I drove over to the Whale Watch tm Kaikoura headquarters to meet with some of their people and to discuss our plans as far as Clyde's expected diving operations in Kaikoura Canyon and Bernard's hydrophone monitoring of the diving behavior of the sperm whales. Thomas Kahu, the Sea Operations Manager and Marcus Solomon, the Operations Manager for Whale Watch tm Kaikoura took us into their conference room overlooking the sea and almost in unison, both Bernard and I placed our laptops on their conference table and started them up. Clyde gave a brief overview of the goals and general plans for the day to day operations of the expedition and I showed them some of the most recent SeaWiFS satellite observations over Kaikoura and what we could learn from them. Then it was Bernard's turn and he talked about the work that he has been doing over the past few weeks and presented some of the dive profiles that he had just processed. Plotting the results of his observations in a more traditional fashion, Bernard showed us where the greatest number of sperm whale dives have taken place.

The largest number of little red dots, each one marking the location of a generally 45 minute long feeding dive, was found along one of the steep Kaikoura Canyon walls. If the sperm whales are indeed hunting for giant squid as everyone feels confident is the case, then this is the most likely place to look for them with the Deep Rover. Hopefully, the Kaharoa will arrive tomorrow and then everything will be in place to begin the Search for the Giant Squid.

Bernard and I are hoping that the wind will finally calm down enough for us to go out tomorrow morning and reconfirm these findings. Also, since tomorrow will be my last day in Kaikoura, I am hoping to be able to get out on the water at least once before I leave.

best regards,

<-- Previous Journal | Next Journal -->